Posted by: Joe English | April 22, 2014

Boston Marathon: Five Things I Learned at the Boston Marathon

running-advice-bugBoy you learn a lot in every marathon. I’ve been running marathons for say 25 years and I’m never surprised that each race teaches me something new. The 2014 Boston Marathon was like no other, with huge crowds and an outpouring of community spirit. This one was a new experience for me as I as woefully under-trained. I had pretty much planned to walk the Newton Hills, I just hadn’t also planned to walk the three miles before and after them.

Here are five things that I can pass along to all of you from my run-walk-shuffle-jog from Hopkington to Boston — most of which won’t be useful to you, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

Boston Marathon Elevation Profile

Boston Marathon Elevation Profile

1) Boston’s Really Tough — You rarely hear people talk about their finish times in Boston. You do hear people talk about “Heartbreak Hill”, that mythical monster of a climb that looms at mile 21. But really it’s not any one hill that makes this course a killer. It’s the combination of lots of downhill and lots and lots of short ups and downs throughout the course that trash your legs. If you want to see just what makes it tough, look at the hill profile that I’ve attached here. Note the overall downhill trend for more than the first half of the course, but all of those little jagged ups in there as well. Key learning: “Boston is tough. Boston is never boring.”

2) Find a Walking Buddy — I don’t usually walk in marathons, but I kind of knew that my legs were not going to last. Here’s a tip: when you are walking along the side of a race with people passing you, the crowd kinda “stares” at you. Sometimes they clap, but often they sort of look away awkwardly as if to say, “It’s ok little buddy,” with a tap on your head. I quickly learned that if you walk with someone else, then it doesn’t feel so weird. I will add here that if you pick someone that looks even worse than you, then you sort of look like you are ‘escorting’ them and that feels a little better somehow (although you will still be in whatever pain that ails you). Key learning: “Never walk alone. Misery loves company.”

3) Wear a “USA” T-shirt — If you want to get people to really yell for you, then just wear something that says “USA” on it. The chants of “USA, USA, USA” were constant along the course as I made my way along. Of course, if you don’t want this attention then you may want to avoid wearing an American Flag or the letters “USA”. While I was in the midst of walking, some of the chants took on a bit more of a consoling tone like, “It’s OK USA, we’re proud of you anyway.” I found that if people said that and I started to jog a little bit, then they went wild. Key learning: “A little American pride can take you a long way.”

4) Water Sounds Different in Boston — The people in the aid station will yell this word that you may not recognize. It’s sounds like this: “Waaaaaah-tah”. I figured out about 6 miles through the race they were saying “water”. Key learning: “Just go with it.”

5) Boston is About the People – The fans in Boston are amazing. They chant. They scream. They yell funny things at you. The have signs that say things like, “If a marathon were easy, they’d call it your mother” and “Go Random Stranger.” They offer you beer, doughnuts and cigarettes. The Wellesley Girls are so loud that they will make your head spin. Leave your headphones at home. Key learning: “Boston rocks. Boston Strong.”

The people of Boston put on one hell of a marathon this year. Everyone should run this one once, but keep in mind that it is a tough one! Go to Boston for the people and the experience, rather than for the time.

Coach Joe English

Posted by: Joe English | April 19, 2014

Boston Marathon: Running To Show it Matters

running-advice-bugIf you had asked me two weeks ago why I was running the 2014 Boston Marathon, I probably would have stuttered through an answer that included a lot of ‘ummms’ and ‘hmmms’. A couple of days ago it hit me like a run-away freight-train: I’m running — we’re all running — because it matters that we are there.

I admit it openly: I’m horribly out of shape at the moment, having been broad-sided by four months of jet lag and international travel that disrupted my training. I’m not in shape to race, but like many I had signed up to run this year’s Boston Marathon because it felt important to do so. I have run Boston before and I didn’t particularly need to go back. I was urged on to qualify and register by some higher duty.

I was shocked and outraged that terrorists had detonated bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon. We runners were even more hurt than most communities, because it touched so close to home. (Although the City of Boston was hurt immeasurably more and we should never forget that.) Running events are peaceful, non-political, and above-all supposed to be fun both for competitors and spectators.

It was a substantial weight that settled on my shoulders in the days after Boston 2013 that many people who had nothing to do with sport — people who had just come out to cheer and support the runners — had become the targets of terrorists. People had died simply for trying to wish our community well. I hurt for them. I still hurt for them when I think about it.

Over the course of the last year, I have thanked many, many spectators along race routes. I have always thanked course volunteers and police, but this year I added “thanks for being here” to the many people lining the roads where I raced. It became even more important for me to acknowledge their support, because they represented that risk that I now sensed in a post-Boston world. Perhaps they didn’t make the connection, but I did.

The weight that I felt also included a sense of mourning for those who lost family while cheering them on. I tried to picture myself learning of the death of a loved-one after finishing a race who had been their watching me. It made my racing feel horribly small. I couldn’t stand the thought that someone would trade-off their life to support me in my hobby, even if they hadn’t done it knowingly.

As the months passed, we felt some healing of these wounds. It was in this time that I think I forgot what Boston 2014 should be all about. I fell into my pattern of thinking about my own performance and my own goals. As a competitor that’s what I’m trained to do. But the big picture emerged like the sunrise last week. This one is about saying thank you. It’s about telling the world that we understand the risk that they take on to cheer us on. Boston 2014 is about running to show that it matters.

When I toe the starting line on Monday I will have left my watch at home. My mission will be simple: show up, thank as many people as possible and show the world that we see them there. I’m not going to give another thought to my own time or performance, because that doesn’t matter this year. Boston 2014 is our way of together acknowledging that we understand what happened and that see that what we do is not made smaller by the acts of terrorists. This one is about family, community and world. This one is for the people that didn’t come home, or were injured, after simply cheering us on.

And with that I will say my first thank you. THANK YOU.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News

Posted by: Joe English | April 17, 2014

Live Coverage: Boston Marathon 2014 Television Coverage

running-advice-bugThe 118th Boston Marathon will be held on Monday April 21st, 2014. This 118th running will be one of the most widely followed because of the events last year and its increased size. Universal Sports Network will carry the race live and will also feature a finish-line camera of all participants in the race.

Here are the details for watching the live coverage and the pre-race show.

04/19 2014 Boston Marathon Preview Show (LIVE) TV: 4:00pm ET
04/21 2014 Boston Marathon Pre-race Show (LIVE) TV: 8:30am ET
04/21 2014 Boston Marathon (LIVE) TV: 9:25am ET Online: 8:30am ET
04/21 2014 Boston Marathon Finish Line Stream (LIVE/VOD) Online: 10:30am ET
04/21 2014 Boston Marathon Post-race (LIVE) TV: 12:30pm ET
04/21 2014 Boston Marathon Wrap-Up Show (LIVE) TV: 4:00pm ET
04/21 2014 Boston Marathon (encore presentation) TV: 8:00pm ET

The web-site for the Boston Marathon coverage at Universal Sports is:

The official marathon web-site is located here:

Check back for our write-up after the race.

Posted by: Joe English | December 10, 2013

Commentary — Ironman Now Lives in the Realm of the Possible

running-advice-bugI remember when the Marathon was something that seamed somewhat daunting and unattainable. People were running them of course, but they held the distance in a sort of reverence. It was something that was still a lofty goal. You didn’t take the Marathon distance lightly. It was, in fact, common when I first started coaching to have to sort through the length of time between Marathons and measure that calculation in months. That was back when the Marathon lived outside of the Realm of the Possible.

Coach Joe "conquering" Ironman Australia 2013

Coach Joe “conquering” Ironman Australia 2013

Somewhere, I’m going to say between five and ten years ago, the Marathon just suddenly moved into the Realm of the Possible. The conversation became less about how difficult the Marathon was and rather focused on how fast, how quickly could one qualify for Boston (in their first, second, third Marathon maybe?), how many could be run in one year, how to run one in all fifty states, and so on. I now routinely talk to people that are running multiple marathons on back-to-back days. I talked to several people this Fourth of July that were doing four marathons over that holiday weekend. A friend of mine this week, at a play date with our kids, casually responded to a “what are you doing tomorrow?” with a “I’ve got a Marathon” as if it were a coffee date.

While the Marathon may still be daunting for many, especially first timers, it has simply moved into the Realm of the Possible. It is something that people can do. This I realized some time ago. But the Ironman Triathlon (140.6 miles combined distances), in my mind, lay quite secure in its place in the Kingdom of Painfully Difficult. It lay far beyond the secure borders of the Realm of the Possible. There was a measure sort of awe in the faces of those that asked if I had “ever done an Ironman?” It was a shock for me when, this month, I had to re-look at my map and move the Ironman into the Realm of the Possible. There it now lies.

The signs were there for awhile. I read a note that a certain Ironman was now considered a “bucket list” race, one that “every triathlete should put on their list.” I heard a spin instructor tell our class that he was doing his fifth Ironman OF THE YEAR that weekend. An e-mailer yesterday casually told me that he “really wanted to break nine hours in the Ironman” this year, formerly something only the Pros could do. People are doing them old and young. People do six or more a year. People are collecting the set, so to speak, of whatever geographic list of Ironmans they are working on.

To continue reading on, click here.

Posted by: Joe English | October 29, 2013

Commentary — Shaping our Thoughts, Reflecting on a Tragedy

running-advice-bugI awoke early Saturday morning. There was a strange noise outside my Tuscon hotel room window. It was a sound that I had never heard before. I went over to the sliding glass door and pulled the curtain back. Standing outside was a family of Javelina — wild pigs. There were three large ones and two tiny piglets. The piglets were sitting with their backs against the glass of the door. The other three pigs wandered off out of view but the little pigs just sat there touching themselves against the glass.

National_Champion_400I watched them for a moment and started to go get my camera. Then one of the large pigs came back. Mom I’m guessing. She scratched her feet in the dirt and nudged at the piglets but they didn’t move. She made some angry noises, but they still stayed put. Then one of the piglets turned her heard and looked in through the glass. It was almost as if she was looking right at me. She held her gaze through the glass for a moment and then both piglets got up and went off into the underbrush alone. Mother pig went off in the other direction after the other pigs.

I’ve spent much of this year writing on my blog here about our mental game. It’s such an important topic to understand both how we control our thinking and how we react to external events. I noted earlier this year that I had gone into one race “angry”, taking out my aggression in a fiery tirade against the field that left them in my dust. I was untouchable that day. I’ve also had days this year when I felt complacent for one reason or another and in those times it has been hard to step on the gas when needed. As I often say, our thoughts frame our feelings. When we receive bad news we may feel angry. When we are given compliments we may feel happier about our selves. This often happens unconsciously, but the trained mind can be channeled to react and feel very specifically.

Think about this in the context of our racing for a moment. Before races I often tell my participants to “turn their anxiety into excitement,” which is another way of saying that they need to take a negative emotion and turn it into a positive one. I spent a lot of time thinking about all of this going into Duathlon Nationals in Tucscon this past weekend. I knew that I had the potential to win a national title, but honestly, I was not emotionally ready to race. I was tired from the long long season. I wanted to be done and on to recovery. But it had also been on my mind that I would have really liked to have captured that “anger” that I felt earlier in the season. How could I turn my mind back into that animal state that would let me crush this one?

This had been on my mind for a couple of weeks and then tragedy hit us here in Portland. My friend Coach Jane Samuels was hit by the horrible, heartbreaking, painful loss of her fiance’s daughter and step sister. The two little girls were killed by a car while playing outside (Read many stories about the accident on Oregon Live). The collective hearts of Portland’s triathlon community literally sunk through the floor. For my own part, I was brought to tears repeatedly throughout the week. Even now, I tear up thinking about it. As a father of a six year-old, I sympathize in the most encompassing form of that word. I cannot imagine the pain that this family is enduring right now.

To continue reading on Running Advice and News, click here.

Posted by: Joe English | October 15, 2013

Reaction — Proud and Feeling Lucky to be in the Game

running-advice-bugI know that many people wonder if I make up the runners that I talk about in my posts. I promise they are real people. Today my friend Cat, who was mentioned in last week’s post about making the most of what you did in your training, adds her reaction to the post. Cat is a great woman and I think her perspective comes through loud and clear: she’s happy to be in the game!

I’m writing to confess that I am the ill-prepared marathoner from Coach Joe’s recent blog post. He’s right. I should be proud, as should anyone who completes a marathon or any significant goal. My response was tentative not just because I could have trained more (ahem, trained at all) or that I could have pushed myself for a better time, but because I know I got lucky.

You see, I know better. This was my third time showing up at the starting line fit (ish) but otherwise ill-prepared. Even with proper training, finishing in good health is not always possible for everyone and it’s not something I intend to take for granted.

Out there on marathon day, one of the many signs I enjoyed read simply, “Someday you won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day!” It made me think about all the people who would have liked to be able to run that day but couldn’t for one reason or another. I thought about people who worked really hard to be there — people like my friend Chris who lost nearly half his body weight in that last two years and transformed himself into a marathoner and a healthy, active dad. I thought about people who used to run but can’t anymore as the years have taken their toll on them. And at the end of it all, I felt incredible gratitude to reside in a body that is currently able to do so many things.

Everyone who runs has a story and the finish line can mean many different things. For me, this finish line served as an indicator that I’m on track for other goals. Pacing is everything and I’ve got a killer 5hr shuffle to call upon! In a nutshell, my current “fitness” goal is simply to be ready for fun and adventure, now and for as long as possible. I want to push myself to make the most of my health while I have it while staying injury free. I want gas in the tank for my 80’s and beyond.

This marathon also reminded me of how lucky I am not only to have a healthy body, but to have the time and resources to dedicate to recreation. And when injury or tragedy could take us out of the race at any moment, it’s a privilege just to run.

To continue reading, click here.

Posted by: Joe English | October 10, 2013

Training — Be proud, even if your training was ugly

running-advice-bugI’m always proud of people when they finish marathons. I was talking to one of my runner friends last week who had just finished running her third marathon. I told her that I was proud of her and I felt like she didn’t quite believe me. “I am too,” she said in a slightly tentative way.

The back-story here is that she hadn’t trained much for this marathon. In fact, I would almost say that she hadn’t trained at all. She did a little bit of running and maybe did one long-ish run. I believe that her hesitation was that she didn’t do much to prepare and hadn’t followed a marathon plan. But as I said, I am always proud of people when they finish a marathon. I was proud of her. Here’s why.

First, the training for your marathon is intended to prepare you mentally and physically to meet your goals in finishing the event. Your training then needs to be designed to help you do what you are setting out to do. If you’re trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials then your training will have to incorporate the right amount of work to help advance that goal for you. But if your goal is simply to finish the race, then the load might be lighter — especially if you are already in good physical shape.

Second, your marathon training is intended to help you avoid an injury in the race itself. If you were to do absolutely no training and then go try to run (and probably walk) 26.2 miles, you run the risk of some pretty serious injuries or at least a very lengthy amount of time hobbling around on very very sore legs. Marathon training programs are designed to slowly increase the distance over a period of time, because this is the best way to avoid suffering a major injury in the race. I like to imagine a marathon training plan like a set of stairs. To get to the top you take one step at a time. If you try to jump from the bottom to the top in one big leap, you risk really hurting yourself.

To continue reading on, click here.

Posted by: Joe English | September 24, 2013

Training — Taking Choice Out of the Equation

running-advice-bugSometimes you just have to do it. That tough workout that’s looming on paper in front of you. You need to get out and do it, but something is blocking you. Whether it be fear, anxiety, or just general fatigue, there are days when you just “don’t want to do it.” It’s times like those when you need to take choice out of the equation.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this point. As you may know from reading this blog, I have had my own struggles with doing tough workouts lately. But last Friday my friend came over for a run. I needed to do intervals and I was going to bring her along for the ride. We walked out the door and I said to her, “we’re doing intervals today.” She grimaced and said, “oh, man.” But off we went and we both did them. The workout was tough, but it went fine and we were both happy afterward for completing it.

What I had done is taken the choice out of the equation for her on that day. Rather than asking, “do you want to do intervals with me?” I told her that we were doing them. Had I ask, she would have most likely said no.

Many people that come to us running coaches perform in the same mind-set. We hand them a daily plan and they just do it. If they were left to their own devices, they wouldn’t attempt the same kinds of workouts. They’d probably run a lot more junk miles and maybe even take more days off. But in the context of working through out plan, a “coach says so” attitude takes over and they just do the workouts that have been assigned. What they are doing here is removing their choice from the equation — or to put it differently, putting the choice in someone else’s hands.

If you need a boost in getting over some hurdle, let me give you a few ideas that might help. These ideas shift the personal choice decisions going on in your mind and make it harder to say “no” or take easier choices. In spirit of getting in the best workouts, try some of these:

Work out with a partner — there is nothing like a little bit of peer pressure to get you to perform. Rather than going to the track alone, go with someone. You don’t have to run the same speed, but just the sheer act of going with someone will likely get you there and get you going.

To continue reading on, click here.

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